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Pandemic Cha-cha

The 1987 Constitution must be considered as a living document, meaning that is meant to be updated when times call for it.

Darren M. de Jesus

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With the pandemic lasting longer than it should, the Filipino people are going on with their daily lives while politicians are up to their old tricks. Once again, we are hearing calls for constitutional amendments under this administration, this time with a different House Speaker. To recall, similar calls were made early in the administration to push for the President’s call for Federalism — something that is long gone and forgotten. Now, using the need for more funding and economic stimulus, politicians are at it again, this time with the pandemic as the reason.

There is definitely merit to this proposal. Amending the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution may bring unprecedented amounts of foreign funding for large scale projects. The “Filipino first” mentality in the 1987 Constitution was a knee-jerk reaction from the Martial Law days. Twenty-first-century thinking has made Filipinos more liberal and open, thanks to technology and our perceived nearness to our foreign counterparts due to social media. If legislators are more daring, land ownership may no longer be restricted to Filipinos alone to allow foreigners to own Philippine land.

The only question that remains really is whether politicians will indeed stick to amending the economic provisions only, not open up the more controversial topics in usual Charter change (Cha-cha) talks, such as the removal of term limits, and longer term periods from three to four years for locally elected officials, and from 6 to 8 years for nationally elected ones. And since this is being done near the next Presidential elections, there is also the fear of allowing the President to serve more than the six-year period, although President Rodrigo Duterte has been consistent in saying that this shall never happen, and I believe him.

A pandora’s box may be opened should we seriously entertain talks to amend the Constitution. Hearings for this may be held only until around September because it is common knowledge that the entire political world enters into campaign mode by then. It was suggested that the plebiscite for the amendments can be done at the same time as the 2022 elections — a very practical suggestion.
The only stumbling block would be the politicians themselves, if they can agree on a single course of action on which not many shall object to (considering that the opposition will understandably object to everything). For instance, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments declared that they are now convened as a Constituent Assembly — a claim disputed by a number of lawyers. Chairman Rep. Alfredo Garbin said that by the Committee’s consideration of proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution, it is now seemingly ipso facto sits as a constituent assembly, even in the absence of the Senate.

Most respectfully, I would tend to disagree with this new interpretation of the Constitution, and this may merit a low recitation mark in a law school constitutional class. However, the legislators are correct in saying that the 1987 Constitution is silent on this matter, and in such cases, we should look into the intent of the framers, some of which have already expressed their disagreement with this new method.

Congress consists of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and it is always a point of discussion on how the two Houses will vote. There is an agreement in principle that voting must be done separately, else the Senate votes will be eaten up by the House. This is a consistent point of discussion since the 1987 Constitution has not been amended since its passage 36 years ago.

Some have questioned the timing for the calls for Cha-cha, which I think is immaterial. The 1987 Constitution must be considered as a living document, meaning that is meant to be updated when times call for it. The pandemic caused a huge economic slump and everyday Filipinos are getting the brunt of it. Countless people lost their jobs and businesses are not doing well. If you ask me, it is opportune time to amend the 1987 Constitution, but only its economic provisions, nothing else.

For comments, email him at [email protected] or tweet him @darrendejesus.

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